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Tarantulas are a family of carnivorous spiders that have adapted to most of the world's major ecosystems.

Among their many unique and interesting features, most tarantulas lack the ability to spin webs to ensnare prey. Instead, they hunt their prey as relentlessly as the famous animals they are named for. Females also carry their young on their backs. Despite their rather fearsome appearance and behavior, tarantulas are a useful part of the food chain and can help keep many other insect species in check.

Tarantula infographic

© AZ-Animals.com

5 Surprising Facts

  • Tarantulas are also sometimes called ground spiders or hunting spiders because of the interesting way they capture their prey.
  • Tarantulas' large eyes provide excellent vision, especially at night. It has one of the best eyesight of all types of spiders. However, tarantulas cannot move their eyes and rely on a wide field of vision to see.
  • Tarantulas have three small claws at the end of their legs that help them hunt prey.
  • The Carolina tarantula is the official spider of the state of South Carolina. It's also the only state in the U.S. that has an official spider.
  • The tarantula is the only known species of spider that carries its young on its back.

scientific name

Burrowing tarantula isolated
Tarantidae – the tarantula family – includes over 2,800 species!

© D. Kucharski K. Kucharska/Shutterstock.com

The scientific name of tarantulas is Lycosidae, which is derived from the ancient Greek word for wolf. This really huge family consists of about 124 known genera and more than 2,800 species (depending on how they are classified).

It's difficult to give a comprehensive overview of these breeds due to the variety, but there are many similarities between them. This family belongs to the order Aranea, which includes all known spiders.

appearance and behavior

Tarantula (Lycosidae) tarantula with baby
Tarantulas usually hunt on the ground.

The tarantula can sometimes be identified by its large eyes, long legs, bulky body, and large mouth appendages. It is black, brown or gray, sometimes mixed with tan or light orange markings. This helps them blend in with their surroundings and surprise their prey. Tarantulas have eight eyes arranged in three rows around their head: two at the top, two at the front, and four more eyes above the mouth. These four smaller eyes provide secondary vision and contain a reflective tissue that produces a strong glow in light.

Tarantulas vary widely in size from 0.24 to 1.2 inches — or about the size of a dime — and they usually weigh less than an ounce. Its eight legs are much longer than its body, making the spider appear larger than it is. On average, women tend to be larger than men.

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Tarantulas are nocturnal animals that only hunt at night. They spend most of their time on the ground, but sometimes climb trees or vegetation to catch prey. Tarantulas rely on their excellent eyesight and sensitivity to nearby vibrations to track prey and avoid predators. They also make sounds and release chemicals to communicate.

Tarantulas may be nomadic or territorial. For safety, some species will burrow under rocks, logs, or other objects and hide the hole with rubble or trash. They tend to have a specific hunting ground to which they return each night. Other tarantulas do not have a specific home. They roam large territories in search of food and may seek out human settlements when the weather cools.

Although related to the web-spinning spider, the tarantula doesn't spin large webs, but it still produces silk for its egg sacs and other uses. Therefore, their silk is slightly different in composition and strength compared to web-spinning spiders. Because they lack this ability, their hunting behavior is more reminiscent of a large carnivore like a wolf than that of many other types of spiders.


Tarantulas are a truly prolific family that can live almost anywhere in the world except the Pole and Antarctic. Its habitat spans nearly the entire world, including the Sahara Desert and most of Siberia.

The most common habitats are grasslands, meadows, shrublands, forests, wetlands, gardens, and human homes. They can also live in more inhospitable places such as deserts, mountains, and even volcanoes. While some species require very specific environmental conditions, the vast majority have adapted to a wide variety of habitats.

More than 200 species of tarantulas currently inhabit the United States. One of the most common species is the rabid tarantula. It is found throughout Texas and Oklahoma, sometimes as far as Maine and Florida. Despite the name, the rabid tarantula is not particularly dangerous, but it can sometimes engage in aggressive behavior towards humans.


Tarantulas eat insects such as grasshoppers, flies, and ants.

© Vida Shams/Shutterstock.com

The tarantula's diet consists almost entirely of insects and other spiders; less commonly it turns to small reptiles and amphibians. Some of its favorite foods are ants, grasshoppers, and beetles, but diets will vary greatly depending on climate and location. This diverse diet allows it to live almost anywhere small invertebrates are found.

Tarantulas are swift predators. Many species hide and wait for prey to surprise them, swooping in from great distances. They are also fast enough to chase retreating prey. Once the prey is captured, the spider proceeds to roll the victim into a ball or inject venom directly into its body as a way of liquefying its organs. The spider then sucks out the liquefied nutrients in its body.

Tarantulas have strategies for coping with scarce food supplies, especially in harsh climates where they may be often deprived. They have the ability to slow down their metabolism or can engage in some cannibalism.

Predators and Threats

Largest Tarantula - The Carolina Tarantula
The legs of the forest tarantula can reach nearly 50 mm in length when extended.

©Will E. Davis/Shutterstock.com

Despite their fearsome behavior, tarantulas' small size makes them a common food for larger animals such as birds, lizards, and rodents. When threatened by a predator, tarantulas can employ a variety of defenses. It has the remarkable ability to split a leg and make a bold escape (the spider will regrow the legs later, but usually at a short-term cost). Venom bites are also a painful deterrent to many predators. If all else fails, the spider will try to use its extraordinary speed and agility to run and hide.

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Unlike many other animals, humans pose little threat to the entire tarantula family. They have adapted so well to human habitats that they can even coexist with humans when left alone. However, due to their fear of spiders, people often try to kill them.

Reproduction, Babies and Longevity

Egg-laying animals_spider
A female tarantula carries a bag full of eggs.

©Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com

At the start of mating season, male spiders will try to woo female spiders by waving their pedipalps (their special mouth appendages) through the air or by banging them together. Tarantulas are selective when choosing a mate and look for specific traits that may be unique to each species. It is also thought that men may be able to sense a woman's sexual availability, and even past sexual behavior, from the chemical composition of her silk. Males must balance being bold without being overly aggressive when courting.

In rare matings, the female may have a tendency to eat the male. This sometimes happens even before they successfully mate if they encounter errors. It has also been documented that males can eat older females of lower reproductive value, but this is far less common than the reverse.

Whether or not the male survives the encounter, the female is essentially alone in laying eggs and doing most of the raising of the young. One of the many distinctive features of tarantulas is that the female wraps her eggs in silk and places the egg sacs on her abdomen. After hatching, the newborn spider will emerge from its sac and climb onto its mother's back for the remainder of its juvenile life. After a few weeks, the baby spiders will be able to live on their own. They are the only spiders known to carry their young on their backs.

Most tarantulas generally live for one year, but some tarantulas live up to two years. Due to their short lifespan, tarantulas need to reproduce as many offspring as possible before they die. Many of these offspring were killed early and did not survive long enough to mate. For this reason, spiders prefer to breed for sheer numbers.


Most species of tarantulas are not considered seriously threatened by conservationists. Due to their widespread distribution and stable population numbers, their sheer adaptability has made them one of the most successful animals on Earth. But there are a few exceptions to this rule.

Some species located in deserts and small islands such as St. Helena are critically endangered according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Many other species are either endangered or vulnerable.

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Due to the sheer number of species, many of which are very rare and remote, it can be difficult to track and protect them all. The exact population size is not fully known.


male tarantula
Although tarantulas can bite, they are not very dangerous to humans.

©Henrik Larsson/Shutterstock.com

What does a tarantula look like?

Tarantulas can be identified by their rather large mouths, pastel colors, and large, round eyes. Due to their appearance, larger tarantulas are sometimes mistaken for tarantulas, but the two families are distantly related to each other.

Are tarantulas dangerous?

The venom of tarantulas is not very harmful to humans. Even if you get bitten, the venom causes only mild redness, itching, and swelling. There is some debate about whether tarantula bites transmit harmful bacteria that can cause some skin infections. However, these cases are rare and not clearly linked to tarantulas. No other serious complications were recorded.

Are Tarantulas Good to Keep Around?

While fear of large spiders is common, tarantulas are actually an important part of the ecosystem. They feed on insects that many consider pests. Many of these insects can damage crops and useful vegetation.

Are tarantulas carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?

Since they primarily eat insects and other spiders, tarantulas are carnivores. Unlike many other spiders, it hunts its prey rather than trapping it in its web.

How did tarantulas evolve?

The evolution of tarantulas is not fully understood, but it is thought that the earliest spiders may have evolved more than 350 million years ago – around the same time as the ancestors of mammals, reptiles and other land animals. The tarantula family evolved from web-spinning spiders tens or even 100 million years ago, making its lineage truly ancient and diverse.

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Tarantulas are often confused with tarantulas. The biggest difference between the two is size, with tarantulas being much larger.

One type of spider that is often mistaken for a tarantula is a fishing spider. While these two spiders may look similar, they have some key differences. For one thing, fishing spiders have longer legs to help them hunt above water. Tarantulas have different eyes compared to fishing spiders and also carry offspring, which is a unique feature.

Tarantulas are carnivorous and feed primarily on spiders and other insects.

Tarantulas belong to the animal kingdom.

Tarantulas belong to the phylum Arthropoda.

Tarantulas belong to the class Arachnid.

Tarantulas belong to the tarantula family.

Tarantulas belong to the order Araneae.

Tarantulas are covered with hair.

Tarantulas live on every continent except Antarctica.

Tarantulas live in forests, plains, deserts and wetlands.

A tarantula is a carnivorous arachnid that hunts its prey.

Small tarantulas are known as spider mites.

Tarantulas can live 1 to 2 years.

There are many differences between hobo spiders and tarantulas. Tarantulas are larger than hobo spiders and have more hair and eyes. Read all about their differences here!

The biggest difference between female and male tarantulas is their size and how they interact with their young. Female tarantulas are much larger than male tarantulas, averaging up to 1 3/8 inches in size, while males are only around 3/4 inch.